I had a huge problem in my first few years of running roleplaying games.
I had a huge ego.
When I used to GM I loved to have complete control over the game to the point where the players became mere spectators. But I also had another problem, one that was much, much worse than railroading the game. I used to love my GMPCs. That’s right – I had Mary Sue characters.
There was one particular NPC I had in a Star Wars game who I’d heap adoration onto. The problem here was that this character was also my own PC so, of course, he’d automatically be the cool character in my game. There’s absolutely no excuse here – I’d use my powers as GM to fully control the destiny of my character until it became worse than a railroad game, it became a biography of who my character was and what he could do and the players would watch his life and abilities unfold, as if they were supposed to be impressed or something. This was all about me, at the end of the day. I barely gave a thought to the players and concentrated on how cool it would be if this or that happened to my character. This was a direct result of my PC not getting the limelight in the game in which I played him in, and it was my chance to have his fate unfold as I wanted it to happen.
I wasn’t alone in this – a friend of mine also had a favourite PC he’d run as a GMPC, and we would frequently swap GMing duties. It became a battle between us, who could outdo the other in the Mary Sue department, right down to ‘my GMPC saves the day!’ events. We burned ourselves out doing this and after a climactic PC vs PC fight that ended in a kind of draw - his PC won by skill and my PC won with subterfuge – we kind of realised what it was we were doing and also realised that there was no fun in this, no sense of achievement or fulfillment at all. We were in our late teens when all this happened and so we managed to get it out of our system very early on and thank heavens we did. Our games improved because of it and we went on to run bigger and better campaigns.
Years later we took part in games where supposedly older and wiser gamers were doing the same thing. We looked at each other knowingly and sat back to watch the Ego Show, and enjoyed letting the GM indulge themselves. My friend even encouraged it, partly for the fun of it and partly because we’d get the same experience points regardless of whether the GMPC won the day for us or not. We got past this phase in our early gaming years but it appears that no matter how much experience a GM has they can still fall into the same habits and traps.
I see this kind of gaming as pure self-indulgence on the part of the GM. There’s nothing positive about it at all and only ever creates dissatisfaction and boredom within the player group. It’s an incredibly selfish way to game and although I still sometimes create a top-notch NPC who I’d like to see do well I have to realise that it’s the player’s characters who are the heroes of the game. To reduce them to trivial spectators or sidekicks makes their entire reason for turning up for the game utterly pointless.
If you’re new to this GMing lark, don’t think you’ll find satisfaction in playing like this. You honestly won’t, even though you’ll think you will, or are. All you’ll end up doing is losing players and looking back on the games with the realisation that running a GMPC as the focus of the game is possibly the most pointless thing you can be doing at that table, and that it’s a massive waste of the time that you could have been spending running a decent game that involved the players and revolved around their characters. You know – the reason why they turned up to play your game in the first place.
I cut my ties with that way of gaming by killing off my ego trip PC completely and it was a great moment as I was able to totally let go of my Mary Sue tendencies.
Originally posted April 2012